Music and Finance, Opportunity, Technology

Leveraging the Web: How to Make Money Online as a Musician


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#MusiciansandFinance is musicovation’s blog series exploring finance for musicians. All posts are contributed by graduate students in New England Conservatory’s Entrepreneurial Music course  Finance 101: What Musicians Need to Know taught by NEC alum Jessi Rosinski

by Bill Alexson

Looking to expand your income potential without looking for work outside your field?  Opportunities for the entrepreneurial musician are increasingly available online.  Whether your passion is music education, recording sessions, or arranging/transcription work, an online platform could connect you with your next gig.

Teaching Through a Third-party Website

Many musicians supplement or earn the bulk of their income through teaching.  According to a survey of musicians in the United Kingdom, 60% earned at least a portion of their income through teaching music.1

Freelancer websites such as Thumbtack.com allow music teachers and other professionals to market their services online.  After creating a free profile, teachers receive customer requests through Thumbtack.  They then choose which requests to respond to and pay a fee to quote their services to each specific client.  If their quote is accepted, teachers can arrange lessons according to their schedule, opting to teach lessons in person or online via a video call platform such as Skype.

Thumbtack’s “Best of 2015” list includes jazz pianist Grant Richards, who has used Thumbtack to reach more students after graduating from Berklee College of Music.  His Thumbtack profile includes many 5-star reviews, which help his profile stand out to potential new clients.

Teaching Through a Personal Website

Musicians who prefer more autonomy and the ability to customize their web presence may opt to offer lessons through a personal website.  Nashville-based drummer Tim Buell offers Skype lessons through his website, where students can also sign up for a free e-book on drumming techniques.  As a bonus, students who purchase individual lessons receive access to a library of prerecorded lessons to supplement their real-time instruction.

Teachers who maintain an active performance schedule can separate their online portfolios by purchasing different domain names, such as MusicianName.com for performing and MusicianNameLessons.com for teaching.

Remote Sessions

Recording sessions are no longer confined to major-label production studios like Capitol Studios in Los Angeles or Ocean Way in Nashville.  Many demo and indy sessions these days can be produced out of a home studio with relatively minimal equipment.  Through a personal or third-party website, freelance musicians can also market their recording session services online.

One such website is AirGigs.com, which connects independent artists with the session musicians they need to fully realize their creative projects.  Musicians can post listings for free in various categories, which range from specific instruments to songwriting, song production, mixing, and mastering.  According to the AirGigs FAQ, musicians keep approximately 90% of what they earn on the site.  The remaining 10% is broken down as follows: AirGigs makes about a 7% commission on musician earnings, and about 3% goes to PayPal fees.

For an overview of the technical requirements for home sessions, see “7 Must-Haves for Session Musicians Recording at Home” on the SonicBids blog.  For a more comprehensive perspective, the popular For Dummies book series includes Home Recording for Musicians for Dummies, now in its fifth edition.

Transcription/Arranging

Work for transcribers and arrangers is also available on freelancing sites such as Upwork.com (formerly known as Elance-oDesk).  A quick sampling of recent client requests included everything from the transcription and arrangement of full-scale Latin jazz scores to the transcription of a short solo piano performance on YouTube.  As with most freelancing platforms, past experience in the field is often a necessity when seeking work on this site.

A basic profile on Upwork is free, but only premium subscribers can view competitors’ bids.  According to how much a freelancer has billed a client, Upwork receives a service fee of either 5%, 10%, or 20%.

Music notation software such as Finale or Sibelius is usually a prerequisite for transcription and arranging work.  Before purchasing, make sure to look for discounts for students and private music teachers.  I also recommend using a program such as Transcribe! to streamline the transcription process and slow down the playback speed if necessary.

Share Your Experience

Have you managed to market your skills as a musician online in one of these areas?  Do you have any tips for musicians seeking work online?  Feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

1McPherson, Gary E., and Graham F. Welch. The Oxford Handbook of Music Education. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 700.

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